On average, Canada’s financial advisors and insurance agents are closer to retirement than the start of their careers. Finding new recruits to replace them is a perennial issue that was first addressed by Canada’s college system well over 10 years ago, when the industry first funded the launch of Seneca College’s Centre for Financial Services.
Today, the school’s 10th cohort is preparing to graduate in April 2018.
Students graduating from the program exit having completed the Canadian Securities Course and the LLQP (Life License Qualification Program) exams, and some preparatory coursework from the Canadian Institute of Financial Planning needed to undertake the Level 1 CFP (Certified Financial Planner) exams administered by the Financial Planning Standards Council.
In addition to the technical skills needed to pass designation exams, the program also teaches marketing and soft skills – interpersonal skills, presentation skills, interviewing and the psychology of selling. Most of the curriculum was created from scratch, with help and financial assistance from Canadian insurance and mutual fund companies.
Sam Albanese, industry director, insurance and wealth management with the school’s Centre for Financial Services, says over time the program has evolved in a few ways. First, Programming has changed as designation requirements have changed. The school also added curriculum to educate students about the use of social media in their marketing efforts. Next, the two-semester certificate program became integrated into the college’s wider offering: Students taking business administration or compliance administration diploma programs can now choose the financial services certificate program as their elective after completing two years of core curriculum in those programs. The certificate curriculum is also part of the school’s university degree program where students earn a Bachelor of Commerce degree in Financial Services Management.
“Some of these students will hang around and actually get a degree in financial services,” he adds. “That’s a four year program.”
The number of students graduating from the certificate program has risen considerably over the years, as well. Where only 12 students graduated from the inaugural program, today Albanese says the certificate program alone usually attracts between 50 and 60 students each year. Including those who are working in diploma and degree programs, he says between 200 and 300 students graduate each year having completed the curriculum.
Those graduating from the certificate program also tend to be mature students – those who’ve earned a degree already, who have workforce experience or who’ve chosen financial services as their second career. “That’s really important to note,” Albanese says. “We do screen students to make sure they have the maturity and the educational background needed. We want to make sure that the people who do take the courses are serious about financial planning. We do a lot of screening to make sure we get the proper candidates to take the course.”
Because of this, he says, the dropout rate among students from one semester to the next is virtually non-existent. “A lot of times you get 60 students coming in September 1. You wonder how many of those will actually renew for the second semester. We don’t have that problem. We get all 60 students back again in January. They’re excited. They can see their career. They can see how it can be very lucrative and rewarding.”
“They made a decision – this is what they want to do for their career,” he adds. “We’ve broken some serious ground here. Those who are seriously interested in cutting it in financial services have a vehicle, a means of getting there. Whereas before, that simply didn’t exist.”
Demand for those graduating from the program is also high. Each February the college hosts a career day where 30-40 potential employers from the industry gather to interview would-be recruits. (Those graduating must also complete a four-week field work placement.)
While those taking the course and those recruiting graduates are generally pleased with the results, Albanese says the career path is still an obscure one to anyone outside of the industry.
“The vast majority of people have absolutely no idea what this industry is all about,” he says. “Students who take our course, the ones we land on our doorstep, every single one of them are amazed at how much they’ve learned. Students who take the course always come back and say ‘I never realized how this industry really works. I never knew that all of this was involved.’
If the industry got together and started to promote the career, I think that would solve a big, big part of the problem.”